By Joseph Passantino
Last year, the New York Yankees returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Unfortunately for fans, the team’s stay did not last long, as the Houston Astros eliminated the Yankees in a one-game wild-card playoff. Thus, for the past three consecutive seasons, the Yankees have not won a game in the postseason.
Surely, the blue-and-white squad will look to break that streak this year. The team’s goal, as Yankees Manager Joe Girardi reminds fans, is to add another title to its impressive World Series legacy. But just how feasible is that goal? As always, there are plenty of moving parts that make the 2016 Yankees an interesting bunch.
One of the biggest improvements General Manager Brian Cashman made in the offseason was acquiring relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds. Chapman will serve a 30-game suspension to start the year in light of domestic violence reports, which is hardly an ideal start to a career in pinstripes. Nonetheless, his return will signal one of the most impressive bullpens in the major leagues, as he joins dominant relievers Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances for a formidable closing trio. With questions surrounding the starting rotation, this configuration figures to prove trustworthy to shut down opposing offenses late in the game.
While Yankees fans are familiar with the names in the rotation, they might not know what to expect — and for good reason.
One of the biggest stories surrounding the 2015 postseason was CC Sabathia’s highly-publicized stint in rehab for alcoholism, which removed him from the Yankees’s brief October roster. Sabathia returns to the spotlight this year, though, and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds. While he is not the pitcher he once was, fans will likely stand behind Sabathia as he attempts to put his real-life struggles behind him and get back to doing what he loves.
Sabathia will compete with Ivan Nova and Luis Severino for spots in a rotation that also looks to include Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi. Tanaka is undoubtedly the ace, but had elbow surgery in October, which the Yankees hope will be a non-factor. Severino was a standout in 2015, but Girardi insists he will have to earn his spot this year. Severino pitched poorly in the Yankees’s spring opener, but it is hard to imagine that the Yankees’s rotation will not feature this promising young star.
Examining the offensive side of things takes us to another big off-season acquisition — new second baseman Starlin Castro. The Yankees’s second base position had been in flux during the past two years after the team lost homegrown superstar Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners. Players hope that Castro, the former All-Star who has played six seasons in the Major League at age 25, will be their answer. Joining him up the middle will be Didi Gregorius in his sophomore season, who proved his mettle last year after a rough start. After 2015 was the first Derek Jeter-less season in roughly 20 years, it is exciting to watch bright young talents prove themselves.
Of course, the Yankees’s offense will also rely on its stalwarts, as Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira return in veteran roles. Both players had bounce-back years last season, with Rodriguez’s being particularly notable after his 2014 suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He is now within reach of Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list, sure to draw the ire of many baseball purist. If the highly-paid designated hitter has learned anything from his media debacles, he should try to ignore the milestones and focus on helping the Yankees win.
Teixeira has publicly stated his desire to retire as a Yankee, but his contract ends this season and it seems unlikely the Yankees would pick him up for another. He has struggled to stay healthy and despite his 31 home runs and 79 runs batted in last year, he is certainly past his prime. If Teixeira wants a shot at remaining in pinstripes, he’ll have to output similar numbers in 2016.
Rounding out the lineup are catcher Brian McCann, third baseman Chase Headley and outfielders Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Beltran is another aging player who the Yankees will count on to produce, while Gardner and Ellsbury remain key cogs atop the club’s batting order.
The 2016 Yankees, buoyed by key acquisitions and veteran presences, are a fascinating mix of old and new. If the puzzle pieces can fit together, the team’s old tradition of winning just might net it a brand new Commissioner’s Trophy.